Eagle County wildfire now measured at 97 acres, mostly beetle kill timber | VailDaily.com

Eagle County wildfire now measured at 97 acres, mostly beetle kill timber

Infrared aerial photos taken Monday morning show that a wildfire in remote Eagle County has been measured at 97 acres, not the 250 estimated when the fire broke out Sunday afternoon. It's burning mostly dead and downed timber killed by pine beetles.
U.S. Forest Service photo |

STATE BRIDGE — Infrared pictures of an Eagle County wildfire show it’s burning 97 acres in a remote, pine beetle-infested area, not the 250 acres originally thought, said the U.S. Forest Service.

The Gutzler fire was estimated Sunday evening at more than 250 acres, said Aaron Mayville, district ranger of the Eagle-Holy Cross Ranger District of the White River National Forest.

However, after Forest Service officials received infrared aerial photos Monday morning that cut through the smoke to show the actual fire boundaries, the fire was measured at 97 acres, Mayville said.

“The multi-mission aircraft’s photo equipment can see through smoke, and we can see the actual fire. It’s smaller than we originally thought, which is a good thing,” Mayville said.

The fire is in a remote spot nine miles east of State Bridge and 14 miles west of Kremmling near Sheephorn Road, just southeast of the Trough Road that runs through the area.

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There is some private ranchland in the area, Mayville said, but for the most part, the fire is burning on top of a mesa toward the edge of a cliff. It’s burning in an area with a large number of dead and downed trees infested by pine beetles.

The fire was first reported at 1 p.m. Sunday, when large plumes of white smoke were seen, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office said.

Crews started battling the blaze Sunday with four Forest Service engines, eight smokejumpers, a heavy air tanker, a smaller tanker and a helicopter. Four more hotshot crews were supposed to be sent Monday, July 3, to help fight the fire, the Forest Service’s Katelyn Jerman said in a written statement.

Those aircraft dropped water and retardant on the fire for several hours Sunday but had to stop late in the day when a storm blew in, Jerman said.

Mayville said that because they now know the fire is smaller than originally thought, and because it’s burning in a relatively contained pine beetle area, they’re marshaling resources to determine what course of action is “best for the resource.”

Smoke may be visible from the State Bridge area in Eagle County and from Colorado Highway 9 in Summit County.

The Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Aviation Management Unit is managing efforts to fight the fire, Jerman said.

Wildfires have now sparked in six Western states: California, Arizona, Washington, Utah, New Mexico and now Colorado in both Eagle and Garfield counties. The Garfield County fire is small and is near Buford Road between Rifle and Meeker.

The Forest Service said the fires are fueled by gusty winds and high temperatures.

The Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service last week issued a red flag warning for all of Eagle County, meaning that wildfire danger is high. The warning comes from a combination of wind and low relative humidity — generally 15 percent or lower — which makes wildfires more likely to spark and spread, said meteorologist Matthew Aleksa.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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